The battle for Kobane, for weeks now a test of Islamic State reach, Kurdish resilience, US tactics, and Turkish intentions, took a potentially important turn Monday with Turkey’s decision to allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters to cross into Syria to join the battle.
The decision was announced after a weekend of intense fighting for the northern Syrian city and hours after US military officials announced that US cargo planes had dropped ammunition, weapons, and medical supplies to Kobane’s beleaguered defenders.
Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters would be allowed to assist Kobane, the BBC reported.
While taking in some 200,000 mostly Kurdish refugees from the fighting in Kobane, Turkey has so far resisted mounting pressure from its own Kurdish minority to fight IS itself or allow Turkish Kurds to cross into Syria to join the battle.
Turkey regards the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has links to the Kurdish defenders of Kobane, as a terrorist organization, and has been wary of allowing the formation of an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria. But with Kobane appearing several times recently on the verge of falling to IS, Turkish-Kurdish tensions have spilled over into outbreaks of violence in Turkey in which dozens of people have been killed.
Turkey has opposed US weapons for the Kurdish fighters. On Saturday, President Barack Obama called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to say the US would airdrop supplies provided by Iraqi Kurds, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Three U.S. C-130 cargo planes began dropping the weapons and supplies, provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq, on Sunday, the officials said. Over several hours, the U.S. dropped 27 bundles of small arms, ammunition and supplies.
The mission marks a deeper U.S. involvement in the conflict and comes over the objections of U.S. ally Turkey, which strongly opposes arming the Syrian Kurds.
The U.S. has conducted some 135 airstrikes in the area of Kobani, itself a main focus of the Islamic State militant offensive. U.S. military officials said they have killed hundreds of fighters and damaged scores of combat equipment.
Underscoring both the urgency of the US resupply mission and the delicacy of the US-Turkish discussions on the fight against IS, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday in Jakarta that the US had carried out the airdrop because it would be “irresponsible” and “morally very difficult” not to support Kobane’s “valiant” Kurdish defenders, the Associated Press reported.
Speaking in the Indonesian capital on Monday, Kerry told reporters that the administration understood ally Turkey's concerns about supplying the Kurds, who are linked to a Kurdish group that Ankara fiercely opposes.
But, he said the situation is such in the besieged town of Kobane that the resupplies were deemed absolutely necessary in a "crisis moment."
"Let me say very respectfully to our allies the Turks that we understand fully the fundamentals of their opposition and ours to any kind of terrorist group and particularly obviously the challenges they face with respect the PKK," Kerry said. "But we have undertaken a coalition effort to degrade and destroy ISIL, and ISIL is presenting itself in major numbers in this place called Kobane."
Kerry said the militants had chosen to "make this a ground battle, attacking a small group of people there who while they are an offshoot group of the folks that our friends the Turks oppose, they are valiantly fighting ISIL and we cannot take our eye off the prize here."
"It would be irresponsible of us, as well morally very difficult, to turn your back on a community fighting ISIL as hard as it is at this particular moment," he said.
In recent fighting IS forces had penetrated deep into Kobane but were driven back by Kurdish forces after the US intensified its air campaign, allegedly killing hundreds of the jihadis. Over the weekend, however, IS forces intensified their assault on the city, observers said, employing car bombs and sustained mortar fire.